Earlier this year Scientific Games and Big Time Gaming built upon a successful partnership across the UK and Europe by plotting a US igaming takeover that began in New Jersey.
Taking BTG content to the region, including the hugely popular Megaways mechanic, through the firm’s open gaming system, Golden Nugget was the recipient of the portfolio.
Coming amid consistently increasing monthly online casino revenues across the region, the agreement boosted Golden Nugget’s market leading status further still, with the operator recording a 68.5 per cent jump in September to $15.6m (2018: $9.2m).
CasinoBeats spoke to Dylan Slaney, SVP gaming at SG Digital, Nik Robinson, CEO at Big Time Gaming and Warren Steven, senior director of product and operations for online gaming at Golden Nugget, to delve deeper in to the deal, discuss differing player tastes from Europe to the US and to the address the importance of the operator/supplier partnership in ensuring sustained igaming success.
Golden Nugget is already the leading online casino provider in New Jersey in terms of market share – being first to market with BTG games is likely to strengthen that position. How did the deal come about?
Dylan Slaney: Scientific Games and Golden Nugget have a strong relationship through our existing land-based and digital businesses, so this was a natural next step for us once New Jersey was regulated.
We’re here to offer our partners the best content through an easy installation, so our open gaming system paired with Big Time Gaming content made this strategy a perfect fit. We’re proud of the role we’ve played in this partnership in providing Golden Nugget players with exciting new online games to experience.
“I have no doubt that US players will respond favourably”
Warren Steven: We have been tracking the success of BTG content performance in Europe for some time now and had been working with both Scientific Games and Big Time Gaming for a path to market solution during that time.
Scientific Games pulled out all the stops and presented the path to market, and we were pleased to jump on the opportunity and be a launch partner for the BTG content in the US.
As igaming becomes more mainstream in the US, what types of features do you think players in the market will respond to? How will the new audience impact innovation in game development?
DS: Players are demanding rich content with innovative features more than ever before. With our industry competing against mobile and console gaming worlds, we have to ensure that we’re developing great games that make for exciting experiences. Multi-studio features, such as missions and tournaments that are available across every game, will be the key to future gaming.
Players want to access these features regardless of the game developer. Scientific Games is committed to bringing such features through OpenGaming, our new end-to-end digital ecosystem. Of course, responsible gaming is also a key consideration, and we work tirelessly to ensure adherence to regulations put forth by the governing bodies of our industry.
Nik Robinson: I have no doubt that US players will respond favourably to slots that pay above and beyond what they are used to with land-based. Another huge point of difference is the way players can be rewarded with progress, with in-game features like feature drop, multiplier upgrades and other persistent features that simply can’t be part of the equation in land-based play.
FeatureDrop delivers a constant flow of coins into the reels that drop into a slot to reduce the price of the feature. Our new HeartStopper goes one step further allowing players to experience a “mega feature” where we adjust the actual math of the standard feature to create something of huge potential value in return for player loyalty.
“We endeavour to make our slots a journey that can be repeated session after session and never get boring”
In terms of innovation, the evolution of slots will continue at pace and as the US market grows we will see a simplification of use with increased complexity in mechanics. Netflix builds narrative very traditionally and expensively and it’s singular use.
Slots spin a different narrative every time they’re loaded and player engagement comes from the mathematical delivery of the ongoing story and that’s why BTG is now focusing on persistent mathematical systems (not gamification), that will be able to trump (with a small t) anything land-based can currently offer.
On that note, our slot machines are becoming remotely different from the original land-based fair. We believe that the fine-tuned development of mathematics has its own distinct narrative, after all, math is the language of the universe and at Big Time Gaming the math sets the scene, switches on the lights and rolls the camera and produces a different narrative reality for each player in real-time with each subsequent spin.
We endeavour to make our slots a journey that can be repeated session after session and never get boring in the long term. Our products have players jumping with joy and screaming with excitement and dropping their jaws in disbelief as that massive multiplier drops in from nowhere!
There are tens of thousands of clips on YouTube from players experiencing ranges of emotion on par with watching an all-time classic movie. Whilst Hollywood strives to create 130 minutes of magic that you possibly will only watch once, we strive to create entertainment that has no end, no completion, even when you win that ultimate big win, there’s still enough depth that you want to jump in one more time!
How important has the established working relationship between BTG/SG been in managing this integration?
DS: It’s immensely important. We have an excellent relationship with BTG, to the point where we’re using our IP and their innovative mechanics to offer truly unique game experiences. Having that reliable relationship is key to successful launches like this one.
“Like any relationship, there has to be trust and to be trusted, you have to be consistent”
It really shows how Scientific Games’ two-sided network is paying off. With quality content at one end, and operators and players on the other side, we are moving at speed to bring new gaming experiences all over the world, including emerging territories such as New Jersey.
In the UK and other European markets, BTG slots have taken leading positions in casino lobbies away from the established market leaders. What is it about these titles that make them so appealing to the player?
DS: BTG titles offer new, fresh spins on traditional slot gaming that really amp up the whole experience. Megaways in particular is a great feature that gives each spin a unique feel and sense of anticipation. It keeps players on their toes, interested in what that next spin will bring or how many paylines will show up. Those types of player-centric features plus player-favourite game themes make for a winning combination.
WS: The all-round production values that BTG apply to building their content is market leading, but the secret sauce is in the Megaways feature and the math model that comes with it. It is engaging to the discerning slot player and offers the required volatility tolerance that slot players enjoy.
How crucial is the supplier/operator relationship to success in the US igaming market?
NR: It’s tantamount to the success, personally I’ve been in the online gaming industry for over 20 years and I know individuals from all sides of the business. Like any relationship, there has to be trust and to be trusted, you have to be consistent. That’s not necessarily consistently producing hit after hit, but it is certainly having a consistent track record in innovation.
The wild west days are over, providers copying providers is becoming a thing of the past, as more casino managers simply decided they don’t want to run half-baked rip-offs of original ideas. 25 per cent of our cost base, if not more, is on innovation and we pride ourselves in bringing new ideas to market.
“I think that player tastes are more a result of experience than geography”
The industry is now starting to wake up to the fact that they need to reward the innovators which in turn will make the provision industry stronger and more robust than ever before. It will also enable operators to worry less about content and get on with building incredible user experiences for their players.
DS: It’s incredibly important, particularly in emerging territories. For operators looking to expand their casino offering quickly, efficiently and responsibly, leaning on the support of suppliers who are highly experienced in this space is a no brainer.
One of the real benefits of working with Scientific Games is accessing our innovative work, insights from our experts. It’s not just a case of integrating content, relationships have to offer much more.
How do online slots players’ tastes differ between the US and Europe, if they do – will Megaways appeal to the US player (perhaps it will appeal even more)?
DS: I think that player tastes are more a result of experience than geography. In every market, you have seasoned players who love high-volatility games and chasing bonuses. On the other hand, every market has new players that look for an accessible experience with easy-to-understand mechanics.
I think the US will start with more of the latter, but as players get more familiar with online slots and their mechanics, the trends in game popularity could shift to more in-depth experiences. Megaways can offer the best of both worlds, and I think US players will respond really well to it.
WS: There are differences between EU and US slots players in their slots tastes. The US is more traditional, which shows in the strong wagering support for classic stepper slots. If you look at just casino players, rather than sports acquired and cross-sell, the demographic is older and more balanced gender wise, which equates to higher player values.
“It’s a huge opportunity with a ton of potential to make waves in the US arena”
This also speaks to the current strong baseline support for classic slots and recognised land based games. The perception is that a US slot player is currently not as demanding for change and innovation in the slot games.
It is our job, along with the game suppliers, to change this perception. Within one week of going live with Bonanza we had 63 per cent of all our slot players make a wager on the game, Megaways is going to be a hit this side of the pond.
What impact, if any, is the surge to regulate on and offline sports betting having (and likely to have) on the online casino sector in the US?
DS: I think it’s planted the seed, so to speak. Sports betting is growing rapidly in the US, and as operators, suppliers, and particularly regulators start to see the opportunity, igaming will start to catch up.
It’s a huge opportunity with a ton of potential to make waves in the US arena. Both verticals will work as important cross-channel tools going forward, particularly during busy sporting events where casinos can look to tap into a wider audience.
WS: Sports betting is an overwhelmingly strong acquisition product, and will be especially strong in the US market. Most lawmakers and regulators will eventually realise that the cross over between sports and casino is where the real value is in creating tax dollars, as well as the important process of eliminating lost taxes to the online casino wagering currently taking place offshore.
We know that the current reality is that the regulation of online gaming in most states excludes casino, even with the obvious success that online casino has had in New Jersey since launching in 2013. However, sports is easier to get through the legislative process but casino should follow on the coattails in some states, but at a less frenetic pace that sports betting is seeing at the moment.
What’s next for BTG? Any big innovations in the pipeline?
NR: As I mentioned we’ve just launched our first HeartStoppper product and will be following that up in the new year with something very interesting. In terms of “Big Brands” which is something we’re big on, we have a new Who Wants to Be a Millionaire game coming out in November.
We’re also putting the finishing touches on our December release, Monopoly Megaways which has been a closely guarded secret for some time but with our partnership with SG stronger than ever after entering New Jersey, we are delighted to offer the game exclusively through their OGS platform worldwide, from December!
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